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  • Allison Stalker

U.S. and Canada Sign Newly Revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

On September 7, 2012 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and Canada’s Minister of the Environment signed an amended version of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, first signed in 1972 and last amended in 1987. The main purpose of the agreement is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters” of all the Great Lakes as well as portions of the St. Lawrence River.

“Protecting cherished water bodies like the Great Lakes is not only about environmental conservation. It’s also about protecting the health of the families—and the economies—of the local communities that depend on those water bodies for so much, every day,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “The amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement we signed today outlines the strong commitment the U.S. and Canada share to safeguard the largest freshwater system in the world. Our collaborative efforts stand to benefit millions of families on both sides of the border.”

The new sections of the agreement focus on the nearshore environment, aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation, and the effects of climate change. Portions of it also address threats to public health and environment from factors such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals, and discharges from vessels.

The agreement requires the U.S. and Canada to cooperate and coordinate on certain environmental issues related to the Great Lakes including the following:

  • Preventing environmental threats before they turn into actual problems.

  • Updating phosphorus targets for open waters and nearshore areas of each lake and taking actions to reduce phosphorus levels that contribute to harmful algae.

  • Preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species.

  • Developing plans to protect and restore nearshore areas, the primary source of drinking water for Great Lakes communities and where most commerce and recreation occurs.

  • Reaffirming actions necessary to restore and delist Areas of Concern.

  • Identifying new toxic substances, and implementing pollution prevention and control strategies.

  • Preventing and controlling harmful discharges from ships and other vessels.

  • Developing conservation strategies to protect native species and restore habitat.

  • Identifying and helping coastal communities understand the impacts of climate change on water quality.

  • Developing water quality and ecosystem health objectives.

  • Reviewing Great Lakes science and establishing binational priorities for future work.

  • Providing notification of activities that could impact the Great Lakes.

  • Reporting progress to the public regularly.

In order to address the stated issues, the agreement provides the following measures of implementation:

  • Pollution abatement, control, and prevention programs

  • Aquatic invasive species programs and measures

  • Conservation programs

  • Enforcement actions and measures

  • Research and monitoring programs

Skeptics of the agreement wonder if it contains enough detail and specific measures to adequately address the problems, especially problems surrounding phosphorous levels and increased abundance of blue-green algae, which depletes oxygen levels. There are also questions as to whether funding will increase from both the U.S. and Canada.

The full text of the agreement, including further detail on the issues and implementation measures can be viewed here.



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